Winston Churchill was indomitable, often rude, terribly stubborn, and clearly enamored of his opinions. But did you know that he also had a softer side? It’s true. The English Bulldog had a great capacity for graciousness.
Churchill’s pathway to power as Prime Minister of Great Britain on May 10, 1940 had been paved with persistent criticism of political opponents and even of colleagues in his own Tory (Conservative) Party. He saved some of his most stinging barbs for his predecessor at number 10 Downing Street, Neville Chamberlain. Among his criticisms of Chamberlain was this particularly caustic remark: “At the depths of that dusty soul there is nothing but abject surrender.”
But in spite of all the venom, Churchill was overwhelmingly kind to Chamberlain after taking his job. That’s right, Winston Churchill had a “warm and fuzzy” side.
One of the first things Churchill did in May 1940 was to tell Chamberlain that he and his wife could stay in their home at 10 Downing Street for the immediate future. Neville’s wife, Anne, not only enjoyed living in the Prime Minister’s residence, but she had actually done much to improve the dwelling.
Neville was moved by this generous gesture. Though he had taken chronic offense at Winston for his personal attacks in the House of Commons and the press, considering him something of an enemy (even once having Churchill’s phone tapped), it’s clear that this feeling was not reciprocated on a personal level. Winston remained personally loyal. This would pay significant political dividends during fragile moments when the War Cabinet was debating whether or not to make peace overtures toward Hitler. Chamberlain backed Churchill on that.
Neville was also dying.
“Blood, toil, tears, and sweat,” are famous words to us today. They evoke thoughts of courage, fearlessness, and an unwavering determination to succeed. Other Churchillian phrases echo down to us through the corridors of time – words like: “finest hour,” “we shall never surrender,” “we shall fight on the beaches,” and so forth. They are timeless and meaningful.
But I think one of Winston Churchill’s best orations from those days has been overlooked for too long. It was the eulogy he shared about Neville Chamberlain, who succumbed to complications due to stomach cancer on November 10, 1940, just six months after leaving office:
It fell to Neville Chamberlain in one of the supreme crises of the world to be contradicted by events, to be disappointed in his hopes, and to be deceived and cheated by a wicked man. But what were these hopes in which he was disappointed? What were these wishes in which he was frustrated? What was that faith that was abused? They were surely among the most noble and benevolent instincts of the human heart, the love of peace, the toil for peace, the strife for peace, the pursuit of peace, even at great peril, and certainly to the utter disdain of popularity or clamor. Whatever else history may or may not say about these terrible, tremendous years, we can be sure that Neville Chamberlain acted with perfect sincerity according to his lights and strove to the utmost of his capacity and authority, which were powerful, to save the world from the awful, devastating struggle in which we are now engaged. This alone will stand him in good stead as far as what is called the verdict of history is concerned.
Winston Churchill was not the one-dimensional warmonger some in his day thought him to be, an opinion that persists in some quarters today. He was an inspiring leader at the right time and in the right place. And he had a way with words, like when he said:
In War: Resolution. In Defeat: Defiance: In Victory: Magnanimity. In Peace: Goodwill.
[David’s next book, a thriller called, THE CHURCHILL PLOT, will be published in 2017.]